The Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, in partnership with the Long Island SoundKeeper, has filed two lawsuits — one against the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation and the other against the State University of New York (SUNY). The lawsuits accuse the state’s parks department and SUNY of discharging polluted wastewater from cesspools and septic systems at five state parks and at the Stony Brook Southampton campus.
Filed on Friday, November 9 with the U.S. District Court in Central Islip, the two lawsuits identify Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus, as well as the Robert Moses, Heckscher, Belmont Lake, Sunken Meadow and Wildwood State Parks, as facilities which are polluting estuaries and rivers with excessive nitrogen and pollutants.
The lawsuits further allege that the facilities are operating without proper permits and in violation of three federal environmental laws — the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
According to the lawsuits, the Office of State Parks and SUNY operate their large capacity septic systems, which the Baykeeper contends discharges pollutants into rivers and estuaries via groundwater, without a federal Clean Water Act permit. Additionally, according to the suits, the five state parks operate illegal large cesspools which were required by federal law to be closed and upgraded by 2005.
According to the Baykeeper, virtually all of Suffolk County’s coastal waters and tributaries do not meet state water quality standards and are not supporting important uses such as swimming, fishing, boating and shellfish consumption as a result. Excess nitrogen, continues McAllister, in coastal waters triggers algal blooms that reduce oxygen levels and water clarity, damage aquatic vegetation, kill fish and produce what are termed “red” or “brown” tides that can threaten human health and render shellfish inedible.
Suffolk County has roughly 2,000 of the 4,500 large septic systems in the United States.
According to the lawsuit, the five state parks and the Stony Brook University Southampton campus together have the capacity to discharge more than 279,000 gallons of septic waste daily. By comparison, a single family home typically has a septic system with a capacity of 350 gallons per day, and is diluted with grey water from washing machines, dishwashers and showers.
In July 2013, The Baykeeper notified both the state parks department and SUNY of his intent to sue. The Baykeeper said neither the state nor the university contacted the environmental organization to express a willingness to resolve the problems out of court.
However, in October, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the parks department entered into an administrative order of consent with the DEC ordering the parks department to pay a fine for failing to close its large capacity cesspools and for other violations relating to the operation and maintenance of its septic systems. The DEC has ordered state parks to close those cesspools within three years and make other upgrades at a cost exceeding $5 million.
“New York State should be the flagship for responsible stewardship of Long Island’s waters — especially at our state parks, beaches and Stony Brook’s Southampton campus — not just another polluter,” said McAllister.
“Among the relief we are seeking from the court, none is more important than getting these facilities to install denitrification technology to protect water quality,” said Reed Super, the Baykeeper and Soundkeeper’s attorney.